Of course Tidying Up with Marie Kondo starts in Lakewood, CA

In watching one of the popular new TV shows, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, I was not surprised to see the first episode take place in Lakewood, California. Here are several reasons this makes sense:

  1. Lakewood is a paradigmatic suburb. It does not quite receive the amount of attention as Levittown but it is known as an important post-World War II suburb of Los Angeles. Read more about the suburb’s unique history on the city’s website.
  2. The home depicted is relatively small compared to many of the suburban homes constructed today. This is part of the tidying issues the family faces: the American pattern is to accumulate more stuff over a lifetime (partly to express a certain status) and one solution for adjusting to this stuff is simply to purchase a larger home.
  3. The family is depicted as living an ideal family lifestyle: they have been married five years (if I remember correctly), have two small kids, and live in a suburban single-family home. This family/single-family home connection is strong in the suburban psyche.
  4. The emphasis of the episode is on the private life of the family inside the home. Even with the show focused on the belongings inside the home, there is very little connection to the outside world, whether neighbors, or the larger suburb, metropolitan region, or nation. All these privately-held goods and familial relationships look like they are in a small bubble that the participants prefer to stay in.

Given the suburban emphases on single-family homes and consumption, perhaps it makes all the sense in the world to start such a show in a well-known suburb.

Lakewood, CA caught between suburban housing or job choices

A profile of Lakewood, California, a paradigmatic postwar suburb, suggests the community is no longer home to numerous suburban dreams:

So they settled in Lakewood, among the rows of modest little ranch-style houses, repeated in one of 20 or so iterations, interspersed with shopping centers, parks and schools. It’s a landscape that today appears completely unremarkable, but half a century ago embodied a powerful vision of the good life in California…

“The promise of Lakewood was enough of the good things of an everyday life — a simple house, a yard, infrastructure of schools and churches and shopping centers,” said D.J. Waldie, an author and former city historian who wrote the book, “Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir,” about life in Lakewood from the 1950s, when the subdivision exploded out of lima bean fields into a suburb of 70,000…

Those solid middle-class jobs nearby have shipped out. To afford to buy a home here, a lot more people are living like Jenny Gov — spending more of their day in ever-worsening traffic, leaving little time to spend with family and neighbors, coaching Little League or exploring the wonders of California.

The promise of places like Lakewood has been carved down into little pieces with Californians forced to pick between them: choose the house or choose the nearby job, but seldom both.

The issue discussed in the article is a common one: the locations of jobs and affordable or even somewhat affordable housing are not necessarily close. Many metropolitan regions do not have the infrastructure to provide options besides driving for the important suburb to suburb trips that make up the largest segment of trips. And to some degree, these locations can change. When Lakewood was developed, how many people predicted the true multinucleated nature of the Los Angeles region?

Certainly, more affordable housing is needed. At the same time, is there hope of spreading out good jobs or introducing new jobs in more residential communities? The typical bedroom suburb does not have to remain as such.

Photos of “unique” Lakewood, California

The New York Times takes a look at some of the photographs Tom M. Johnson has taken of his hometown, Lakewood, California. Here is how Johnson describes his pictures:

At a workshop in Santa Fe, N.M., Mr. Johnson learned of three steps for becoming a successful artist, ascribed to Horton Foote: Be competent at your medium, understand the history of your medium and come from a place.

“I thought about that driving on the way home,” he said. “I started thinking about Lakewood. This is sort of a unique suburb. I started to appreciate the qualities.”

Mr. Johnson’s parents moved to Lakewood in the 1950s. It was his mother’s dream home. At that time, he said, Lakewood was largely composed of a single middle-class stratum. Now, he said, even as the definition of “middle class” has broadened, so has the mix in Lakewood, where you can find run-down homes as well as manicured lawns.

Mr. Johnson is changing, too. “I see different types of pictures than I did before,” he said. “It’s probably something I’ll continue to work on forever.”

This sounds like it could be interesting: an artist realizes that his unique hometown has a lot of potential. But, looking at these 13 photos on the NYT website, I don’t really see much of the uniqueness of Lakewood at all. In fact, I think these photos could come from a number of suburbs. Maybe I think this just because of the 13 photos offered here.

Lakewood does have the potential to be an interesting subject. Here is a brief history of the community:

Lakewood is a planned, post-World War II community. Developers Louis Boyar, Mark Taper and Ben Weingart are credited with “altering forever the map of Southern California”. Begun in late 1949, the completion of the developers’ plan in 1953 helped in the transformation of mass-produced working-class housing from its early phases in the 1930s and 1940s to the reality of the 1950s. The feel of this transformation from the point of view of a resident growing up in Lakewood was captured by D. J. Waldie in his award-winning memoir, Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir.

Lakewood’s primary thoroughfares are mostly boulevards with landscaped medians, with frontage roads on either side in residential districts. Unlike in most similar configurations, however, access to the main road from the frontage road is only possible from infrequently spaced collector streets. This arrangement, hailed by urban planners of the day, is a compromise between the traditional urban grid and the arrangement of winding “drives” and culs-de-sac that dominates contemporary suburban and exurban design.

It might be difficult to take photos of “boulevards with landscaped medians” or convey the spirit of “mass-produced working-class housing” but, if this is what sets Lakewood apart, these are the photos I would like to see.

In general, it may be difficult to convey the unique character that individual suburbs have. While residents and community leaders certainly know what sets their community apart from nearby communities, picking this out in photographs may be a challenge.